NFL defends flag on Steelers' Harrison; fine forthcoming?

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison could be staring at another hefty fine from the NFL after his latest helmet-to-helmet hit against a Cleveland Browns player.

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During the fourth quarter of Thursday's win over the Browns, Harrison hit quarterback Colt McCoy in the facemask with the crown of his helmet right when the Browns quarterback got rid of the ball. Harrison drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for the hit, which also sidelined McCoy for two plays.

Harrison defended his actions -- and the hit -- after the game, stating the McCoy should be considered as a runner in that instance.

"From what I understand, once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he's considered a runner," Harrison said. "All the defenseless(ness) and liberties that a quarterback has in the pocket are gone and you can tackle him just as he's a running back. The hit wasn't late, so I really don't understand why it was called."

The refs viewed the play differently, and Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13 (8) and (3) of the NFL Rule Book supports their decision to penalize Harrison and the Steelers.

"When a passer is outside the pocket area as in the case of Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy last night," the league explained, "he is still afforded the protection of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13 (3), which prohibits defensive players from using their helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture, including by "forcibly hitting the passer's head or neck area with the helmet or facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him".

Browns coach Pat Shurmur refrained from criticizing Harrison's hit during his Friday news conference. Shurmur added, however, he had strong feelings but did not want to discuss them publicly. Last season, Harrison knocked Browns wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs out of a Week 6 game with hits to the helmet. Harrison was fined $75,000 for the blow to Massaquoi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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